By GABRIELA CALLAGHAN-GAITÁN
Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra was impeached on Monday, despite warnings against this due to the ongoing crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr. Vizcarra accepted the vote, reducing the chances of a constitutional crisis or a drawn-out legal battle in an already-struggling nation.
President Martin Vizcarra headed to Congress on November 9th for an impeachment hearing. The accusations mounted against him stated that Vizcarra accepted bribes worth 2.3m Peruvian soles (around £487,000) during his run as governor of Moquegua from 2011 to 2014. The five-hour debate also saw allegations of negligence during the Covid-19 pandemic, with congressman Robinson Gupioc telling colleagues that Vizcarra’s incompetence had led to thousands of deaths. Nearly 35,000 people in Peru have died from Covid-19, giving the country one of the highest per capita death rates globally.
The removal of the popular president has created extremely high tensions amongst the people of Peru. Several politicians from outside of congress have denounced the ousting of Mr. Vizcarra as a coup in disguise and have stated that any new president should be viewed as illegitimate. Thousands of civilians have poured onto the streets of Lima demanding the resignations of lawmakers and congressmen. Many have been arrested and some have been injured in violent clashes with police.
A previous attempt at impeaching Mr. Vizcarra happened only two months ago, with different allegations over an ongoing influence-peddling case. Mr. Vizcarra easily survived that attempt, with the opposition only securing 32 votes. For context, President Vizcarra has been in constant battles with the 130-member congress which has been dominated by rival parties since he took office in 2018. The conflict between the legislative and executive led to the president dissolving congress in 2019 on the premise that lawmakers were blocking his anti-corruption measures. A new congress was subsequently put in place, but this failed to relieve tensions despite its widespread public support. No party took more than 10% of seats in the legislature, once again exacerbating Peru’s political fragmentation. During Monday’s impeachment hearing, Mr. Vizcarra warned of the dangers of plunging the nation into political instability just months from the next presidential election, citing the potential detriment to the economy. Vizcarra highlighted the progress made in economic recovery since May, and the subsequent jeopardy this would be put in with an impeachment.
The president’s warnings were echoed by several political analysts, who condemned the impeachment, claiming that destabilising the country’s democracy in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis was incredibly reckless. The action threatens to severely increase doubts in Peruvian institutions and bring harsh economic consequences to a nation already grappling with the social and economic effects of the global pandemic.
Peru has been struggling to stay stable for years, with political turmoil roiling the country since 2017. One Peruvian ex-president shot himself as police arrived at his door and the head of the opposition sits in jail under investigation for several crimes related to corruption and human rights abuses. At the turn of the century, it would have appeared highly unlikely that Peru would face these levels of instability. The end of civil war in 2000 had put Peru on the path of democratic transition and seen a boom in the economy, putting Peru ahead of most of its Latin American counterparts – but this current crisis risks pushing the country into a downward spiral.
So, what lies in wait for Peru? Whilst the country may fly under the radar in terms of political turbulence in the Latin American continent due to its previous reputation as a nation of stability, political fragmentation and the lack of a strong leader during trying times for the nation could create a huge crisis for the country. Twenty-four people have declared their candidacy for the presidency; not one is backed by a strong political party. The winner is likely to find themselves in the same positions as Mr. Vizcarra: unable to evoke co-operation from an increasingly splintered Congress. Ultimately, if Peru fails to create a stronger and more effective state, we may see a Chilean-style implosion.
Image: Flickr / Sun World 2019